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Can Amantadine Change Autistic Behaviors?

written by: sharscott • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 8/25/2011

Amantadine, an antiviral drug, has been researched as to its effectiveness in treating some autistic behaviors. Is amantadine a successful medical treatment for autism?

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    Amantadine and Autism: Is There Hope?

    Hope. It's a word that parents and caregivers of autistic individuals know intimately. The word describes their feeling for their children's present condition as well as what the future may hold. Although researchers have yet to fully unlock the cause(s) of autism, they have made some headway in treating some of the symptoms associated with the disorder.

    One such method involves the use of medications to treat the symptoms of the condition. Amantadine autism treatment has been spotlighted as a promising approach.

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    Amantadine: a Brief History Lesson

    Amantadine, also known as 1-amantanamine hydrochloride, was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1966 as an antiviral agent for Asian flu in adults. The drug is commercially distributed under the brand name Symmetrol as an influenza medication. Although it is successful against influenza A viruses, amantadine has been found to be ineffective against influenza B strains (to which the highly drug resistant Avian (bird) flu belongs). As an antiviral medication, it's not fully clear to researchers how amantadine works. It appears to prevent infectious materials from the invading virus from being released into the healthy cells of the host. Amantadine is also believed to prevent the virus from replicating itself.

    In 1969, amantadine was found (by accident) to also be effective in slowing involuntary muscle movement in Parkinson's patients and Parkinson-like disorders. The FDA approved its use for treating these conditions as well.

    More recently amantadine has been repurposed for another task: the treatment of autistic behaviors.

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    Amantadine Effectiveness

    A double-blind study was conducted by BH King and colleagues in which forty-three autistic children and adolescents between the ages of 5-19, received 2.5 mg of amantadine or a placebo (sugar pill) for a period of one week. The amantadine dosage was incrementally increased to 5 mg during the study. The researchers devised two standard tests. One was for use by clinicians and the other was for the parents of the participants. Of the children given the amantadine dosage, forty-seven percent were reported by clinicians as showing noticeable decreases in hyperactivity and inappropriate speech. On their standard test, parents reported a thirty-seven percent decrease in hyperactive behavior and the use of inappropriate speech. Overall, fifty-three percent of the children and adolescents given amantadine were rated as demonstrating global improvement in these two autistic behaviors.

    When Is Amantadine Prescribed?

    Amatadine autism treatment is prescribed by doctors or requested by parents as a last resort. Opponents of the use of anti-psychotic drugs and other medications for the treatment of autistic symptoms urge parents and doctors to carefully consider all other options before turning to these prescribed medicines. There is substantial documentation that therapies such as speech, social skills training, applied behavior analysis, and others can effectively treat some autistic symptoms. Since medicinal trials rarely, if ever, include children, the effects of a medicine, such as amantadine, may hold other unknown dangers for children.

    What Does it All Mean?

    The implications are promising. Amantadine has been shown to offer some benefits in treating autistic behaviors in a statistically significant number individuals.

    For parents, there is both hope and worry. On one hand, a promising new treatment for two very troubling symptoms of autism has been uncovered. On the other, this drug was not intended for the treatment of autistic children. Parents therefore may worry whether it is safe for their children to use.

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    Side Effects

    Every therapy or treatment has both benefits and drawbacks. Amantadine autism treatment is no different. In the double-blind study conducted by King and others, the most common side effects reported were insomnia and somnolence (drowsiness). However, on Stanford University's Medical School's website, there are a host of possible side effects listed for amantadine.

    These include:

    • light-headedness
    • dizziness
    • faintness
    • constipation
    • difficulty urinating
    • nervousness
    • nausea
    • loss of appetite
    • headache
    • upset stomach
    • blurred vision

    This list does not include more serious complications which occurred in amantadine users (which are rare).

    Amantadine autism treatment may offer some hope to the parents of autistic children who are severely affected by inappropriate speech and hyperactivity. However, as with any course of treatment, the benefits and risks should be carefully weighed.

    NB: The content of this article is for information purposes and is not intended to replace sound medical advice and opinion.

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    Sources:

    The Pharmacological Treatment for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity in Autism, Kolevzon, Alexander MD, vol. 16 1) p. 55-60, www. primarypsychiatry.com/aspx/articledetail.aspx?articleid=1955,January 2009

    Research Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Study of Amantadine Hydrochloride in the Treatment of Children with Autistic Disorder, King BH, Wright DM, Handel BZ, and Sickich, L., Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry vol. 40 Issue 6 p. 658-664 (2001).

    www.drugs.com/pro/amantadine.html


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